If television really is the new
storyteller of our lives, are we all just tuned to the wrong
channel? When I was young, I too was glued to my fair share of
substance-less drivel on the TV. I subscribed to the “Bugs
Bunny,” “Gem” and “Punky Brewster”
school of learning just like the rest of my generation. Yet,
reminiscing now, I can often think of more positive lessons
extracted from such ridiculous shows than I can from many of my
real-life adult experiences thus far.

Janna Hutz

For example, every Saturday morning, I would leap from my bed to
catch the hour-long spectacle that was “Saved by the
Bell.” For two breathtaking episodes, I would ogle at the
screen, wondering what capers that feisty hunk Zack would find
himself in for the week. Sure, I was a pre-teen dork.

But, of course, I was not alone. Millions of other fans
dedicated their valuable morning playtime to this experience.
Watching that pack of crazy teens, one almost caught a glimpse of a
unified whole. There was the jock, the cheerleader, the
“Daddy’s little princess,” the prep, the hopeless
geek and the obsessive genius. Through these six characters, we
could mesh our inner nerd tendencies with our popularity poll
fantasies, our flighty sportsman façade with the hidden
brainiac side.

At the crack of dawn one morning, I happened to find a rerun of
my childhood favorite on the old boob tube, thanks to the miracle
of syndication. This particular episode, aptly named “Pipe
Dreams,” focused on a time in the teens’ lives when
their school desperately needed remodeling, but the community could
ill afford the cost. As its initial solution, the school board
accepted the bid from an oil company, willing to donate enough cash
to cover the necessary updates as well as a few bonus features. In
exchange, the company could exploit the school grounds for any oil
in the area.

While the boys dream of hot tubs in every classroom, Jessie,
eternal friend to the environment, stages a protest to warn others
about the dangers of oil drilling. When the group’s precious
animal friends drown in an oil-ridden pond, everyone abandons their
pipe dreams to promote an understanding of these dangers. For those
30 minutes, viewers began to care about the environment too.

Now, obviously, this is a slightly embellished view of the
show’s worth, considering its notorious early ’90s
cheese factory style. At the time when I watched it, I probably
couldn’t care less about the social dilemmas in the storyline
as long as my girlhood dreamboats would just flash their magic
smiles. But, looking back on it now, I long for that silly team
high five at the end of a job well done. I’d like to know for
once that people could overcome all odds to change the world for
the better, or at least any small portion of it. I want to live in
the Bayside dream.

As a nation of united states, it seems virtually impossible to
unite any of us in an effort to produce a highly effective social
change. Our national obsession with wealth and the oil industry now
threatens our very existence. Many environmentalist scholars affirm
that we are rapidly approaching the end to our limited supply of
this resource. Yet, rather than address the core problem or any
subsequent alternative solutions, Americans bypass communal
thinking to engage in costly international wars for more oil.

At the beginning of the school year, during the peak warm days
of fall, I watched as mothers parked their SUVs at the end of their
driveways with the engine still running, and their children stood
beside the vehicle waiting for the bus. I still cannot comprehend
how this situation makes any logical sense. The mothers let their
unnecessarily large gas guzzlers burn fuel in the driveway and
waited for mass transportation to whisk their children away.
Apparently, we recognize that mass transportation serves some
environmental purpose, yet we would rather pollute the air in the
comfort of our own driveways rather than shuttle the kids to school
and be done with it.

In “Saved by the Bell,” Zack repeatedly confronts
the reality that poverty in some families creates a whole world of
difficulties, some of which he can’t quite understand. In our
world, the rift between society’s wealthiest, upper echelons
and the less fortunate classes is growing dismally large, and
issues of poverty, the failing economy and unemployment are being
increasingly overlooked. Likewise, the character Slater tackles the
problem of steroid consumption among athletes, but nowadays, such
drug use is more often the butt of a cheap joke than a serious
social concern.

Although these characters uncover the solution to their teenage
crises within a 30-minute time frame, that doesn’t
necessarily allow us to brush off their message so easily. While we
may not change the world within a half hour, we could at least show
collective signs of improvement or general worry about equivalent
problems.

I realize people dismiss this kind of claim, stating that
“Saved by the Bell” is a fantasyland, an illusion of
the real world that could never really exist. I argue: Why not? The
cast is the full of the same hardheaded types as our world, and
they face the same selfish desires as we do. But, in the end, they
come together to face the issues that negatively affect them. As we
examine more and more of our idiosyncrasies, the question becomes:
Why can’t we?

— If you like “Saved by the Bell” as much
as Niamh, you should e-mail her at
“mailto:nikaslev@umich.edu”>nikaslev@umich.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

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